Paul Murunga fondly known as Pau in the rugby circles is a man with many responsibilities that occupy his waking hours forcing him, like many working parents, to leave young family at home each dawn and only see them later in the evening.
They are duties that involve juggling tasks between his work at the Kenya Defence Forces as pay clerk and coach in rugby and boxing circles.
The 38-year-old senior private, who is based at the Department of Defence (DOD), Nairobi, now has more responsibilities.
Murunga now has to find a delicate balance for his duties as Homeboyz Rugby Club head coach as well as strength and conditioning coach for the KDF Boxing team and his new full time role as Kenya Sevens head coach.
Murunga, who will be deputised by Mwamba Rugby head coach Kevin “Bling” Wambua, took over from Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu on October 5, this year.
Despite the enormity of the task, Murunga isn’t worried at all as he knows that he will get the much needed support at home, Homeboyz and his duty station.
But as they say, behind every successful man is a woman, Murunga can settle down and focus on his new job.
The World Rugby Level II coach, attributes his coaching success to his loving wife Sheila Birgen.
Murunga, who deputised Kenyan Sevens head coach Benjamin Ayimba as they strode to the historic victory at the Singapore Sevens during the 2015/2016 World Rugby Series, event, says Birgen, who is a manager at iHub Kenya, has been very supportive both at home and in his sporting duties.
“She knows everything about rugby. She always challenges me in some decisions I make as a coach at Homeboyz and sometimes suggests who I should pick for certain matches,” said Murunga adding that she played an integral role when he guided Homeboyz to victory in the National Sevens Series victory in 2016 and 2018 in addition to leading the club’s 15s team to the Kenya Cup semi-finals twice and Enterprise Cup victory in 2017.
Murunga says they have on many occasions engaged in discussions around what should be done to improve Homeboyz’s performance.
“She is quite resourceful with her technical ideas and knows who to play when and where at Homeboyz or even the national team.”
Murunga is quick to note that Birgen’s rugby knowledge doesn’t come as a surprise since she grew up in a rugby family in Nakuru.
She has also been incorporated into Homeboyz Rugby as director of women’s rugby.
“She used to frequent the Nakuru Athletic Club to watch the Great Rift 10-a-side tournament since she was young. That is where I courted her 12 years ago during the same tournament,” said Murunga with a telling laughter.
Murunga reckons that her great ideas have in the process helped him grow and become a better coach. “She is better than most of our referees, coaches and players in terms of the approach of the game,” said Murunga, adding that they rarely watch news at home because they are always watching rugby channels featuring teams in New Zealand, South Africa, the Super Rugby tournament or British rugby leagues.
Murunga’s four-year-old son Blake Isaac knows all the Kenya Sevens players while his 11-year old daughter Triscah Mmbone is also an ardent rugby fan.
“They are very understanding since they know I have to wake early and that I have to attend to evening practice where they sometime join me,” the father of two said.
Murunga believes that the support from his family will help him achieve his goals with the Kenya Sevens team.
However, he reckons that while he has been given a two-year contract by Kenya Rugby Union, the period is not enough to build a solid foundation considering that he wants to transition younger players into the team.
Murunga believes the current team can win some legs in the World Rugby Series but its main challenge is to build a strong side next season that will reach the medal bracket at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and go on to win the World Cup in 2021.
“The third year in 2021 is where the ultimate challenge lies hence we need to build depth in terms of numbers,” he said.
Murunga explained that everything will come in place with proper preparations, motivation of players, sponsorship, camps and a commitment where players that are paid every month.
“It’s about getting proper high performance preparations and without that we shall still struggle to get to the top tier.”
From 2021, Murunga says Kenya Sevens should not struggle to win three consecutive or more events in the World Series with good depth.
“In future, we want to get a team that won’t participate in qualifiers for the World Cup, Olympics and Commonwealth Games,” he observed.
The Kenya Sevens coach notes that even though it has now been two years since the team’s historic victory in Singapore, there is potential for another victory by virtue of having reached the Cup final twice last season during the Canada and Hong Kong legs.
“They say history repeats itself and though the task ahead is tough, we still have a team that can go on win events in World Series. I know the steps we took towards winning the Series in Singapore,” said Murunga. “I believe we are still on the right track and we shall be able to build a strong team.”
He is well aware of the fact that there will definitely be some hurdles along the way especially when he brings in younger players but it is a risk that he is willing to take.
“If we are patient enough until mid-season, we should win a leg then give ourselves proper conditioning for the coming season.”
Murunga says that they have faced conditioning challenges with a bit of back and forth regarding who should take charge after the resignation of Geoffrey Kimani. With no permanent strength and conditioning coach in place, he has now been forced to take charge assisted by Wambua.
Despite the withdrawal of several key sponsors like Kenya Airways and SportPesa, Murunga says expectations are high even as little sponsorship trickles in.
“Even during Ayimba’s time, we didn’t have strong sponsors that were able to put us in camp but we still performed and won a leg in the Series helping bring SportPesa on board,” he said.
“We know KRU has financial challenges and the only way we can draw sponsors on board is through good results.”
Murunga is confident that his team will pick up during the third and fourth legs in Australia and New Zealand since senior players will have joined after missing the Dubai and South Africa legs.
He credits his success at juggling family, work and coaching to the immense support he continues to receive across the board. “It’s somewhat easy for me having been employed at the military because of sports, having played for clubs and the national team for years besides coaching,” said Murunga, adding that the only difference is that he will now have more work at Kenya Sevens.
“I am sure I will be given time and support from my employers so as to work with the team for the given duration,” he said, adding that Simon Odongo’s job is well cut as he takes over from him as Homeboyz head coach.
“The team has been performing and the numbers, foundation and culture is there.”
Murunga said that KDF boxing coach Sammy Magima has seen what he has been doing with the team in terms of strength and conditioning hence they should be able to do well.
The senior boxers in the team like Nick Abaka and Nick Okoth are also able to groom the rest he believes. “They won the league last season and should also win this season,” he added.
He waxes nostalgic about the historic moment he deputised Ayimba as Kenya Sevens won the Singapore Sevens. Murunga says their winning combination worked like a charm due to the fact that they employed two strategies that gelled and produced a master class.
He believes Ayimba coaching the senior players while he focused on juniors was a great strategy. “In Singapore, we had like six rookies that we had introduced that season. We struck a good balance between them and senior players,” he said.
After losing to Samurai at the 2015 Safari Sevens final, Kenya Sevens went to beat Zimbabwe 21-17 at the hooter to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Murunga said they had established the foundation for the team as their confidence peaked as they reached Main Cup semi-final in South Africa and the Cup quarters in New Zealand, Australia and USA.
In the USA, they beat New Zealand by their biggest margin ever 22-0 in the pools but slumped to Canada to drop to the shield before recovering to reach the quarters in Hong Kong. “We were focused on either getting to the final or winning in Singapore” said Murunga.
They went on to lift the Singapore Sevens, beating Fiji 30-7 in the final. They had beaten France 28-7 in the quarters and Argentina 15-12 in the semis where Collins Injera’s penalty conversion sent them to the final.
“The final was not as hard as we thought. People knew the Fijians were good and could come back into the game but we stood our ground with good tackling and ruck play,” said Murunga.
“It was a great feeling and we had to celebrate the historic results.